Mnuchin: We won't let unemployment get to 20 percent

Mnuchin: We won't let unemployment get to 20 percent
© Bonnie Cash

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBank executives sought guidance on small business loan program from Ivanka Trump: report Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Confusion surrounds launch of 9B in small-business loans MORE on Wednesday vowed that unemployment would not reach 20 percent, seeking to clarify comments he made a day earlier on a worst-case economic scenario resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I didn’t in any way say I think we’re going to have that. Let me be clear: If we follow the president's plan, we will not have that,” Mnuchin said on CNBC.

Reports surfaced Tuesday that Mnuchin told lawmakers that without any action, unemployment could spike from 50-year lows of 3.5 percent to as high as 20 percent.

But Mnuchin said he was simply giving a mathematical example, not making a prediction.

“What I said was just a mathematical statement, which is 40 percent of people employed in the private workforce are employed by companies of 500 people or less. It was just a mathematical statement to say that if half of these people were to lose their jobs, this is what it would be,” he said.

“But we're not going to let that happen,” he added.

Asked about the comment on Wednesday afternoon, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE said he didn't agree with the 20 percent assessment.

“That’s an absolute, total worst-case scenario," Trump said. "We don't look at that at all. We’re no way near it."

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The economy has already started reeling from the pandemic, as crucial public health measures and social distancing efforts have thrown sand in the country’s economic gears, shuttering bars, restaurants, movie theaters and large sporting events.

A Tuesday analysis from S&P Global predicted that the United States may already be in a recession.

Meanwhile, Congress and the White House are working on plans to put a floor under the falling economy, providing for paid sick and family leave, expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus checks for every American that could be as high as $2,000.

Jonathan Easley and Morgan Chalfant contributed.

Updated at 1:17 p.m.